In his own words: David Dixon reflects on 20 years in fashion

March 19, 2015

One of the most respected designers in Canada, David Dixon celebrates his 20th anniversary in the fashion industry this year. 

While putting finishing touches on his anniversary collection that will be unveiled at the World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto next week, he shares his story with FAJO’s readers: from where it all started to where he is today.

“My earliest fashion memory was seeing my mother going out with my Dad on a Friday night. I just have this vivid memory of her: so beautiful, wearing a simple black dress and pearls. Her long, thick red hair styled to perfection.

“Before I discovered fashion, I never dreamed of becoming a doctor or teacher like most kids at my age. My dreams were of history, archaeology, and anything that studied the past and its mystery.

“My introduction to fashion outside of my mother and her ambition for us to dress in the latest style — despite being on a budget of having six children — was through two sources: Barbie and television, specifically The Love Boat. It was a typical night at the Dixon household, Mom and Dad going out, and I was allowed to stay up to watch both The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. [In one] particular episode, Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Gloria Vanderbilt and Bob Mackie were all playing themselves and showcasing their collections on the show. Finally, I had my ‘aha’ moment. My sketches finally had a meaning, there was a career in fashion design. I was hooked, and never stopped sketching since.

Dixon at the start of his career. Photo courtesy of the designer.

Dixon at the start of his career. Photo courtesy of the designer.

“The first piece that I actually designed, after completing my bean frog in Home Economics, was a lace and taffeta mermaid gown that was going to be shown during our high school fashion show. It took me some time to make, but seeing it completed on a model in front of family and friends, made me feel I had found my voice. I was an extremely introverted and tremendously shy kid — and awkward around people. Fashion was my way of communicating without having to speak.

“As they say, the first five years are the toughest in any industry. After graduation from Ryerson University, I tried desperately to find employment. However, during a recession, this would be proven difficult. I did however, find a job as an assistant [for] a Toronto designer. This position was short lived, as all of my cheques to be paid bounced. I thought to myself: ‘If I am going to work for free, I might as well do it for myself.’

“With that in mind, I started working on my first collection in 1995, and entered the TFI New Labels Show. I was selected as one of the seven [designers] to be showcased. After my debut, the first struggle was to find retail outlets, and get my collection into stores. Once I did my research on who to target, it was one cold call after another to find stores to take a chance on me.

“It is difficult for me to say when that feeling of ‘making it’ or ‘breaking through’ happened. For me, it is a constant cultivation of a craft, and telling a story. Alongside of being acknowledged by awards of recognition, I would have to say that my 2000 collection — [that was] inspired by a trip to Ireland with my family — was a shift from new designer, to designer. The collection was received with a standing ovation, and emotions overwhelmed me. At that moment, I felt I belonged.

“To date, we will be showing officially our 40th collection. The journey to this point was an incredible one. I do have some special shows that I remember in great detail, as they were all connected to pivotal moments in my life. My collections based on love letters from my parents, old family photos, bubbles, the Kumbaya Collection, Ireland, my first TFI collection, and so many more. For me, a collection is a part of a story, each representing a chapter in my life.


At this year’s World MasterCard Fashion Week, Dixon will show his 40th collection, the culmination of an illustrious career. Photo by FAJO’s Kareen Mallon.

“The people who I turn to most for advice are the same people who were there from the beginning, and some were added along the way. My family, specifically, my brother Glenn, my sister Susan and my partner Jeff. The others who I consider my extended family, are people like Susan Langdon, my stylist Peter Fitt, my right hand at the studio, Hang Truong, as well as friends like Suzanne Rogers and Camille Moore.

“My most sacred advice that I still carry with me today is the advice that my parents gave me while they were alive and, to this day, every night before I go to bed, in prayer I still seek their guidance.

“What I am looking forward to in our 40th collection, is reconnecting and thanking all the people who joined me on this journey, supported me, pushed me to do better than I thought I could, and who have helped me achieve my goals and aspirations. I am so blessed.

“For fall/winter 2015, my inspiration is Joan of Arc. I am truly inspired by women of courage and distinction. Joan of Arc is a culmination of many of my beliefs: stay true to yourself, fight for what you believe in, and persevere. Joan of Arc was once quoted, ‘I am not afraid. I was born to do this.’ In my own way, I feel the same.”

Feature photo by FAJO’s Robin Gartner.

At past shows and events

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By David Dixon
Photography by FAJO's Kareen Mallon and Robin Gartner, and courtesy of David Dixon

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